About the Refuge


At 1.637 million acres, Kanuti Refuge is about the size of the state of Delaware. The Refuge straddles the Arctic Circle, with approximately a third of the Refuge above the Circle and two-thirds below it. Kanuti Refuge is a prime example of Alaska's boreal ecosystem, the forests of which are dominated by black and white spruce with Alaskan (or paper) birch, aspen and poplar trees occurring less commonly. 

The region's summers are typically short and hot and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are common. This results in a continuous cycle of wildlife and recovery on the Refuge. Natural wildfires with varying degrees of burn severity create diverse habitats composed of different plant species, and levels of maturity. The resulting mosaic of habitat types supports a variety of wildlife.  


Migratory fish such as chinook, chum and coho salmon, whitefish, and sheefish, travel extreme distances to spawn on Kanuti Refuge. In fact, the refuge's sheefish make the longest migration of any other sheefish population and Kanuti's salmon travel more than 1000 miles before entering the Koyukuk River system to spawn. Refuge waters also support twelve other fish species, including arctic grayling and northern pike.  


Protecting breeding habitat for migratory birds is central to the mission of Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Kanuti Refuge was set aside primarily because of its rich and diverse waterfowl habitats. Nearly 130 species of birds spend at least part of the year on refuge lands. With the loss of wetlands in regions outside of Alaska, the importance of Kanuti Refuge as a nesting area for waterbirds is likely to increase.   


The refuge's boreal forest is home to 36 species of mammals, including brown and black bears, several wolf packs, moose, wolverine, beavers, muskrats, American marten and mink. Caribou from the Western Arctic and Ray Mountain herds occasionally winter on Kanuti, as well. Visit our Wildlife & Habitat page for additional information.